The Free Times, Twitter and Facebook were stirring this past week in Columbia when word let out that a ramen house opened up in the Vista. Sato, who manages Columbia's Inakaya, had decided to open an a noodle shop in a the vacant spot next to Mojito's and across from Mellow Mushroom, providing hungry students and downtowners with one of the staples of Japanese culture. With all the buzz on Menkoi going on, I knew I just had to take the opportunity to stop by and take a bite of what's been all the rage.
The menu at Menkoi consists of a short list of ramen bowls in its few possible orientations were the dishes of choice, along with the typical list of Japanese sides such as gyoza and edamame. I decided to go for their most straightforward bowl of ramen, which came with slices of pork, a fish cake, some bean sprouts and a piece of nori while my friend opted for the spicy version.
Growing up with bowls of pho and ramen, I couldn't help but be a little on the judgmental side when it came to the review. The broth, for starters, was just average. Consisting of chicken, beef, and pork bones, it definitely had a certain sweetness to it, but lacked a number of aromatics to make me want to down the entire bowl. The spicy broth my friend had, however, packed a little more excitement to it and was something I may have considered slurping. The noodles tasted like they were housemade, and had a decent chewiness to them. The best part of the noodle bowl was easily the slices of pork, which had sopped up all the broth, making for a decently unctuous bite. The fish cake was also decent and sizeable; a nice punch of sweetness and texture to make the bowl more interesting, something that the bean sprouts also added to. Not being a big fan of nori, the giant piece in the bowl was less appealing for me, especially completely drowned in the broth after awhile. Overall, the ramen bowl was fine, but I think if I were to come back, the spicy ramen would certainly win out for me for it's greater complexity.
I also picked up a salmon rice cake to try out. I would probably not spend the couple of bucks for it again; it was a really small portion of salmon and only average rice cake. It's a neat novelty, but not worth the price of admission in my book. Grab a bowl of ramen (preferably spicy) and run with it. Overall, however, for a bowl of noodles I think I would still rather run to Pho Viet for it's namesake, but for the Vista area, I would say Menkoi is a fine addition that has the potential to be great in the future as they hone their craft. And with it being open late till 3 AM, Menkoi may be a students best friend after a long evening out in the Vista or during a dreaded exam cram.